Report on the Joint FDS Audition with ALRA, DSL and Italia Conti (March 30th and 31st 2019)

June 6th, 2019

Three FDS members joined forces in March to offer auditions for all 3 colleges in one day for just £30.00. Venues were chosen in Newcastle and Doncaster as areas specifically highlighted due to low engagement in the Arts at Higher Education level. FDS schools are regularly criticised for charging audition fees to applicants. There are a range of fees from around £30.00 to as much as £90.00 which can obviously be a barrier to talented people with aspirations to train professionally. With travel and accommodation expenses added, it can cost nearly £200.00 to attend just one audition. This can mean that FDS schools sometimes fail to attract the raw and diverse talent needed in the industry.

An audition of two monologues performed to a small panel almost certainly isn’t enough to prove that a potential student can improvise, collaborate, observe and comment constructively – all of which are vital skills for an actor. Some schools use a recall system to add this to the process. Some schools do attempt to offer more than a 15 minute panel audition but there isn’t a consistent approach across the FDS. It may be time to rethink the way in which the FDS recruits and so, with this in mind, several representatives of the FDS schools met to discuss how working together might improve the audition experience and reach areas of the country that are not engaging in the audition process for various reasons.

The idea of a joint audition was mooted at an FDS Marketing & Communication Focus Group in December and the opportunity was open to all schools. Some were unable to pursue it as they felt they couldn’t offer a different system to the one which was already up and running from October 2019. Some schools said that they would consider adding a joint audition to the following recruitment period. Eventually, ALRA, DSL and Italia Conti decided to go ahead with an event to experiment with a joint format and try out the idea with a view to reporting back to the full group and extend the event next year if it proved successful.

In January 2019 a joint press release was sent out to local newspapers across the North East and to The Stage. The Stage ran a short article on 6th February for which the following quotes were provided:

‘We know that it’s expensive to audition for drama school. There’s quite a bit of funding available once you secure a place but just getting to the audition can be too much of a financial strain for some. The lowest fee just for an audition is around £35.00 and then there’s the additional travel costs and you’ll possibly need overnight accommodation too. This means that the very first step towards professional actor training – the audition – can be the biggest barrier of all, and many talented performers never get the chance to fulfil their potential.

These events in Newcastle and Doncaster are an attempt to break down that barrier.’

Adrian Hall

Principal of ALRA

‘We are determined to make it as easy as possible for young people to have the opportunity to train at a leading performing arts conservatoire and follow in the steps of our famous alumni.

We hope that this will be the first of many such days and look forward to discovering some exciting new talent.’

Richard Mulholland - MT Programmes Director of Italia Conti

‘Most things about becoming an actor are hard. Choosing the right course and the right school, reassuring yourself that your speeches will show off your talent to the full, and, of course, getting together the cash for the auditions themselves as well as the travel to them. It is vital for students, the schools, the profession and audiences that actors reflect all of society. Auditionees must be chosen on talent, passion and the ability to work with others; never on income or any other irrelevant distinction.

Drama Studio London have teamed up with Italia Conti and ALRA to help with audition fees and travel costs, an initiative to begin to push that barrier aside.”

Kit Thacker - MD of Drama Studio London

Generic shared email and ticketing system accounts were set up. Auditionees paid a fee of £30 and completed an application form (downloadable from the various landing pages on the three schools websites) and returned it by email. Schools who recruit via UCAS checked that they could retrospectively add the applicants so that the system wasn’t corrupted. Usual audition practice was expected with the preparation of two monologues – one contemporary and one classical and, if auditioning for the Italia Conti Musical Theatre course, applicants were also asked to be ready to sing. They were directed to the various tips and hints on the websites of each of the schools. Applications closed on Tuesday 26th March so that the administration was in place. Some follow up was done by phone and email to ensure all of the information was complete.

The first audition was at Newcastle College on Saturday 30th March. Newcastle College kindly gifted the use of their space to support the event and a couple of their students who had taken up the offer. The facilities were excellent with the use of two large studio spaces for workshops and several small practice rooms for private interviews.

Newcastle College - Saturday 30th March

On Sunday 31st March the process was repeated at Doncaster Little Theatre. This venue is in the heart of the town and is run by volunteers who had taken time out of their weekend (it was Mother’s Day) to help us run the event. The volunteers were passionately supportive of the endeavour and extended the offer to repeat the event next year. Their main auditorium and two dressing rooms gave all of the space needed.

Newcastle College - Saturday 30th March

Both venues had a café open for refreshments but we had advised applicants in advance to bring their own, plus movement footwear and clothing.

The format for the day was the same at both locations. A welcome and introduction to the panel at 9.45am followed by a group warm-up at 10.00am led by three of the panel in turn. This transposed into a movement and voice workshop that the panel could observe – giving them the opportunity to note the collaborative skills and imaginative ideas of individual members of the group. Following a short break, the modern speeches were delivered to the panel with the rest of the group present. When an auditionee required someone to direct their speech to we offered to help and sometimes members of the audition group volunteered.

Newcastle College - Saturday 30th March

We then asked the group to wait in another space so that we could call them individually to deliver their classical speeches to the panel. The thinking behind this was to accommodate those who may not have previously had positive experience of classical texts. ALRA audition records show that many highly scoring applicants still score badly on the classical speech but are offered on the strength of their contemporary speech and interview. Bearing in mind the nature of the event – to reach raw talent – a private classical audition seemed appropriate.

Interviews followed the lunch break. At this stage, Italia Conti tutors also held singing auditions. Each interview ran at roughly ten minutes or less. Auditionees were able to attend three interviews but some chose to not attend with schools where the course they wanted was not available. DSL and ALRA don’t offer Musical Theatre whereas Italia Conti don’t have an MA Course for example.

Doncaster Little Theatre - Sunday 31st March 2019

The feedback was that it was very useful to deliver the contemporary speech in front the group as it allowed auditionees to hear many other speeches that they might use in future and gave them the opportunity to hear the best volume level and gauge the ideal distance from the panel in the large space. Auditionees said that the interview stage was also really helpful and reported that they had not been offered an interview at other auditions. It’s the case that usually a cut is made at an audition at ALRA and other schools before the interview stage in order to see as many people as possible through the day. However, the feedback and advice given at the interview stage was highly appreciated and FDS representatives believed it was worth offering to all of the participants at this event.

It is clear that the Joint FDS Audition was been worthwhile and met the aims. Students who might not have otherwise auditioned were offered places and others who had auditioned at other schools had the opportunity to be seen by more schools and potentially have more choice of which to choose.

ALRA offered nine places on Foundation courses, five on 3 Year Acting courses and four MA Acting places with a further 6 added to the waiting lists across both campuses. DSL have offered 8 auditionees a 1 year diploma place and potentially another one a 3 year degree place. At the time of writing this, Italia Conti had not confirmed the numbers and courses offered but there will be several.

‘This proved an important collaborative first step between three members of the Federation of Drama Schools - joining together to reach out to talent from the vibrant artistic communities in Newcastle and Doncaster.There is already positive discussions to extend the reach to other parts of the UK.’

Emma Lucia Hands - Artistic Director for the Diploma Courses at Drama Studio London

Not all of the feedback from participants has been worked through as yet, but so far it has been 100% positive from participants, venues and some of the parents who had sent the fee payment.

This is definitely an initiative that we would like to repeat and would like to open up to other schools to join for the 2020 intake.

For more information do please email the FDS to pass on your questions to the relevant member of the team.

www.alra.co.uk / www.dramastudiolondon.co.uk / www.italiaconti.com